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Cry Me A Riverbend II

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Poems, Bombs, and the Road to Baghdad

Matthew Doherty was a contractor in Iraq. This article appeared in Poetry Magazine. The money quote is:
I have no sympathy for the insurgency. With a view toward my own preservation, I wish they would all cut it out. But apart from pure self-interest, I think that every mortar, whether it hits or misses, every burst of gunfire or roadside bomb is a dismal impediment to what can only be called progress. The wisdom and righteousness of our going to war are uncomfortable questions. But the insurgents rest on a justification that only the most ardent relativism could withstand. There’s nothing noble about them. They’re the Sopranos East.

But my favorite part of this article is at the beginning....fuuuunny:

The man I am talking with speaks pretty good English. He can read English, too.

“Look,” he says, running his hand across the soccer jerseys he has on offer: “Manchester United. Chelsea.” He also sells DVDs, cigarettes, watches, old Iraqi coins and “money-new”—the new Iraqi currency, whose certain ascendancy to its pre-Gulf War value is an article of faith among the bulk of the American expatriate workforce.


“I’m looking for books,” I say. “Iraqi poetry.”

He’s not sure what I mean.

Poems,” I say. “Poems. You know?” And I ask him if he knows any poets—anyone local who writes poems, or reads them, who could talk to me about them.

He makes a noncommittal gesture, something between a nod and a shake of the head. “Yes, I do know,” he says. “There are some people, not too far.”

“You think they’d come down here? I could talk with them?”

“We could arrange it. But here’s no good,” he says. He looks around.“Too much problem. The soldiers, they would come and ask what are we talking about.”


“You know what I’m talking about, right? People who write poems, or read poems, or know about them . . .”

“Yes,” he says. “There are some people.”

“ So you think they will come?”

He says he will talk to them. Not today, but he will see them. Probably they will come. He tells me they will want some money. Not unreasonable, I think—it would cost them time and some expense to get here.

“No problem. I could give them money,” I say. “But, you know, I’m just
going to talk with these people. Conversation.”

“Yes,” the man says, leaning forward and speaking a shade more quietly.

“You want to talk”—he wraps his hands together then splits them apart—“about the bombs.”

Killer. (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)


  • In Arabic there is no "p" sound. That's very likely why he confused the word poem with bomb. I was married to an Iraqi for many years and spent some time in the Middle East and I heard native Arabic speakers make the same "mistake" many times.

    By Blogger Louise, at 4:35 PM  

  • I figure it was something like that. But this is quite exemplary of how we can take every precaution that we are communicating our intentions clearly and still be completely out of sync.

    By Blogger CMAR II, at 3:06 PM  

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